CONTAINS SPOILERS AND A SENSE OF OVERWHELMING RELIEF
Cards on the table: I've not been a Ridley Scott fan for a very long time. To my mind he's made two genuinely stunning films, Blade Runner and Alien; a handful of interesting but not great ones (G.I. Jane, American Gangster, Body Of Lies, Gladiator....) and, most recently, a genuine stinker that had me seriously considering whether I could give up on movies altogether with Robin Hood. Yes, I sort of liked Black Rain and Hannibal, and The Duellists is okay, but generally I haven't had a thrill of excitement at the thought of a new Ridley Scott film for ages now. So for him to return to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs and actually produce a prequel to the legendary Alien....can he pull that off?
Yes, hell yes. Prometheus is a masterpiece. It's not just the return of intelligent and grown-up horror-based SF to a cinema targeted to the tweenie imbecile demographic, it's the return of a film-maker who knows how to light and frame and edit. It's not just the return of Ridley Scott to decent movies, it's the return of the Ridley Scott who made Alien. With the same mood, the retro-future production design and even a score by his regular composers Marc Streitenfeld and Harry Gregson-Williams that's doing it's damnedest to emulate Jerry Goldsmith's astonishing Alien soundtrack (my deliberate in-car choice of CD for the drive up to the cinema), much of Prometheus feels like Scott could have shot it in 1980 straight after he finished on Alien.
It's a film concerned with faith, creation, death, and what it actually means to be human. On the Isle Of Skye in 2089, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover cave paintings 35,000 years old that bear uncanny similarities with other drawings and carvings from across the world and across humanity's history, all showing the same gathering of stars. The multi-billion dollar Weyland Corporation funds an expedition to the centre of this star cluster to hopefully answer all of mankind's oldest questions....But do some of the crew have their own agenda? Creepy android David (Michael Fassbender, superb) is clearly operating under secret instruction, while Weyland executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron in severe power suits or skintights) has no intention of making actual contact with whatever's down there - which obviously turns out to be exactly the right approach.
Skip this section if you want to avoid the biggest spoilers. Just as in Alien, they locate and explore a vast and mysterious structure. This time, they find thousands of jars of an unknown black goo. By horrific design, this finds its way into Elizabeth via Charlie and central to the movie is her desperate removal of the resultant foetus by Caesarean in a genuinely thrilling and shocking scene of sexual horror. And the ship's secret cargo of Weyland himself (Guy Pearce in old-man makeup) leads what's left of the crew back into the bowels of the structure - an ancient spaceship - as Weyland seeks his answers from the last of the "Engineers", the race believed to be the creators of life on Earth and which have an identical DNA match to humanity.
The cast are fine, though I'm a touch baffled about the casting of Guy Pearce as the old-man makeup isn't very good and it's frankly the annoying weak link in the movie. But to be honest it's great for Michael Fassbender's performance alone. Noomi Rapace has something of the late Elisabeth Sladen about her (and for a further Doctor Who connection, Liz Shaw was the name of the first companion of the Jon Pertwee era) and Charlize Theron has moments where she's as icily scary and forbidding as the Alien itself. According to the opening caption the Prometheus has a crew of seventeen (more than twice as many as Alien) and several of the lesser characters unfortunately don't really register against the heavyweights.
And while it's fun ticking off comparable moments from Scott's original (arguments about ranking and quarantine protocol, the same strobing lights towards the end of the film, the crew hiking across barren landscapes in bulky spacesuits), Prometheus is even more fun as a straight SF/horror movie in its own right: it's a ride and a half and I want to see it again, to thrill to the ideas and concepts as well as the monster attacks and terrific special effects (mainly physical rather than CGI, and they look a thousand times the better for it). I am so, so relieved that it's fine, and so glad it wasn't toned down for the thicko audience (it's a 15 certificate, but a tough one). Yes, there are occasional moments that don't feel entirely right, specifically a few involving Theron, but I'm not going into more detail as this is a film best viewed as cold and unspoilered as possible.
As for the 3D: although it's a "native" 3D film and not a post-conversion I still watched it in 2D (it was an earlier screening anyway) and I suspect that the darker sequences of the film would be reduced to an indiscernible murk once the projector filter and the glasses had cut the light down. In the event, Prometheus loses nothing for being watched in 2D and there's not one shot where you wish there was an artificial depth effect ladled on. It looks great as it is, so don't spoil the experience with silly gimmicks. I enjoyed the hell out of it: it's creepy, scary, impeccably well done, it looks fantastic and the cast are great. Welcome back, Sir Ridley, and don't stay away so long next time. Absolutely essential.
Further thoughts on Prometheus here: